I'm in the process of building my first villains for 7th Sea and I was wondering if you spend influence at the beginning if you want your villain to start with a villain minion or start with a scheme in motion.
Not for minions or brutes, no. Just make a note of what they have available to them. They need to spend influence to get more after play begins.
For schemes, you'll want to make investments for an ongoing scheme. But that's it. I usually make a note of what their last (successful) scheme was too, if I can think of it.